ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A week after Tom Allen challenged Indiana to secure its fifth win, IU’s second-year head coach challenged the Hoosiers to give themselves a fighting chance against No. 4 Michigan on the road.
In the eventual 31-20 loss to the Wolverines (10-1, 8-0 B1G), Allen wanted Indiana (5-6, 2-6) to be the aggressor downfield. He wanted the Hoosiers to establish a running game. He wanted his defense to force field goals, and his team to play like it had nothing to lose.
“The message was really just, ‘let’s go out here, we have nothing to lose. Go out here, have fun. Just keep fighting,” receiver Nick Westbrook said. “That’s what we did. Unfortunately it didn’t play our way. It’s a game of inches, there’s so many different things that happen that change the course of the game. But that was the message, ‘Yeah, let’s get six. Who cares about who the opponent is, we still need to get six.’”
For the most part, the Hoosiers did everything its coach asked of them on Saturday in Ann Arbor. The Indiana offense accumulated 385 yards, the most allowed by Michigan all season. True freshman running back Stevie Scott scampered for 139 yards of them on 30 carries — eclipsing 1,000 yards and becoming the program’s all-time leader in rushing yards as a freshman. When there was a clean pocket, quarterback Peyton Ramsey looked downfield. He connected with Luke Timian for 30 yards, Nick Westbrook for 41 yards, and continuously looked to attack the Wolverines. The young Indiana defense forced Michigan to kick six field goals amidst the 507 yards of offense by the Wolverines.
“We tried to,” Allen said of being aggressive. “We wanted to do that … We’re not going to beat this team being conservative. Had some things on the table ready to use and used some of them, didn’t use all of them. We were ready to pull the trigger and go. We came here to win.”
Indiana led 17-15 at halftime for many reasons. Scott sprinted in the endzone from 13-yards out for IU’s first touchdown of the day and the early 7-3 lead. The Hoosiers stalled Michigan’s offense in the redzone, forcing three first-half field goals by the Wolverines. After connecting with Westbrook and Timian for long gains, Ramsey completed the drive by finding receiver Ty Fryfogle in the endzone to give Indiana its 17-15 lead. At the end of the first half, IU true freshman safety Devon Matthews kept Michigan tight end Sean McKeown from scoring. The clock ran out and the Hoosiers sprinted into the Michigan Stadium tunnel with the lead.
“That’s kind of the way you have to take down these teams, these highly-ranked teams,” Westbrook said. “You just got to attack them. They always say the best way to beat a shark is to punch it right in the nose. So, you just got to be aggressive and try to get out front from the start.”
As it seemingly has against all eight of the top-five opponents IU has faced since 2015, the Indiana lead withered away in the second half. The Hoosiers went 3-and-out on the half’s opening possession, and Michigan quickly responded with running back Karan Higdon’s 3-yard touchdown to give the Wolverines a 22-17 lead with 9:44 remaining in the third quarter.
IU was shutout in the second half until kicker Logan Justus made a 36-yard field goal to trim Michigan’s lead to 28-20 with 6:10 to play in the game. The Hoosiers would not score again, as Michigan marched down the field twice for field goals that sealed the game.
Indiana gave itself a legitimate chance to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1967. For as young as this IU defense is, the Hoosiers put themselves in a position to extend the game for as long as possible. Saturday was an ending that IU fans have witnessed for generations, but for as young as these Hoosiers are, it was a valiant effort that can be built into the season finale against Purdue.
“They kicked six field goals today,” Allen said .”Those field goals gave us a chance. You turn those into touchdowns and it’s a long day at the office. Overall, we tried that a little bit more on third downs, because of the style they were using. I’m not a huge fan of being that way, but you gotta do what you gotta do. We had our shots. It was a one-possession game in the fourth quarter. It was effective for us again today.”
The narrative will quickly turn to the Old Oaken Bucket Game, if it hasn’t already. For the fourth consecutive year, Indiana must defeat Purdue (5-6, 4-4) to reach bowl eligibility. For the second consecutive season, both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers must win the Bucket to become bowl eligible.
“We’ve just got to stay the course,” Allen said. “We have the same opportunity that we had a year ago and now with their result today, both teams are fighting for the same thing. Winner moves on, loser goes home.”